I’ve been reading a lot of Anne Perry novels and come to some conclusions about this best-selling author of historical crime fiction. She writes several series with dedicated characters situated in specific venues for their exploits. By far I prefer her William and Hester Monk books. Acceptable Loss is the latest of these and they are so good I will reserve as many as the New York Public Library has so I can read all of them.
Monk shares top billing with Hester who is a strong heroine, smart sleuth, fearless investigator and highly principled woman essential to the solving of morally repugnant crimes along the Thames in Victorian London. Acceptable Loss picks up where Execution Dock left off—the pornography ring and floating salons of sexual abuse that serve as prisons for young boys is still very much alive. Even the murder-suicide of the owner of one of the boats and the prominent judge who was his customer hasn’t slowed the traffic. Monk and Hester have taken in a mudlark, Scuff, a kid who lived by his wits on the lawless banks of the Thames and was nearly destroyed by the horrible business. As Acceptable Loss opens, they know that Scuff still doesn’t feel safe and won’t until they do something to uncover the money and power behind the sex salons and the extortion ring they fuel.
When the body of a boat owner farther upriver washes ashore, Monk and his deputy find another slave ship crammed with five- and six-year-old boys. The hunt is on for the real puppet-masters, complicated by the charge that the upper-class father-in-law of London’s most prominent barrister, a close friend of both Hester and Monk, has something to do with the revolting trade in children’s flesh. Monk’s investigation threatens a major patron of Hester’s clinic for prostitutes and poor women, and makes an enemy of the barrister’s wife, a clinic volunteer and friend of Hester’s who is also the daughter of the chief suspect.
The forensics are terrific; the suspects are plentiful; the stakes couldn’t be higher; the moral questions are fierce; the courage required to pursue faint and dangerous leads to the truth is exceptional. So is the novel. I think the Monk books are by far Perry’s best and my guess is that the characters and the issues are richer and more compelling than those in her other mysteries. London’s seedy waterfront spawns an inexhaustible number of colorful individuals. The crime is cinematic; the narrow alleyways are stifling; the poverty is grinding and grimy; the gap between rich and poor is stark; the self-doubt that plagues the protagonists at key points in the crime-solving isn’t based on poor self-image but on a refusal to settle for anything less than absolute integrity.
I wonder if Monk and his cohorts are Anne Perry’s favorite creations? In my estimation, they benefit from the lion’s share of her talent. I have yet to read any of her WWI books, although I am told those are among her best. So I’ll reserve final judgment until I’ve had the chance to sample all the dishes in this literary banquet. But Monk and Hester are the go-to team for times when I want a reliable, satisfying read—one that could compel you to stay up way too late so you can finish it. Which I did.
Acceptable Loss: A William Monk Novel Anne Perry | Ballantine Books 2011